Monday, April 10, 2017

The Cup We Drink with Jesus: our Suffering and our Salvation

Throughout this Lent, I have been meditating on the call to drink the cup with the Lord. "Unless you drink this cup, you have no part in me."

The Last Supper, Pascal Dagnan Bouveret
What is the cup we are drinking?  Well, certainly in the Garden when Jesus asks that the cup be passed by, he is referring to the suffering he must endure.  The cup of Jesus we are to drink involves suffering.  We are to embrace the suffering that Jesus calls us into as his own people, his family. We have no part in him if we do not drink it.  In fact, Romans 8:17 says that we are "fellow heirs with Christ provided we suffer with him..."

I am convicted about how much of my life is built around avoidance of suffering, how many decisions I make are based on my conviction that God would not ask me to suffer.  In fact, God has promised I would suffer.  When we choose him, we choose the kingdom of God which necessarily puts the comforts of this world, rewards of this world, the goals of this world in direct subordination and often even in conflict with the comforts, rewards, and goals of the kingdom. We are meant for this world only for a short while during which we unite ourselves to Christ and his loves and purposes for this world.

Sadly, we are disappointed with life when we suffer the very things Jesus said we would.  But Jesus is clear that to follow him means to deny self and take up a cross.  Denying self is a life long discipline that is active in rejecting the way of the world and our own responses of self-pity, anger, resentment, jealousy, unbelief.

Jesus spoke harshly to Peter, saying, "Get behind me Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" after Peter rebuked Jesus when he foretold his own suffering.  Then he goes right on to say that if anyone would follow him, he would have to do exactly what Jesus is doing--take up a cross, deny self.  It is the draw of Satan for us to pull away from the suffering that is part of being in Jesus.

I find that one of the ways that we hesitate to drink the cup of Jesus is in our deep reluctance to be identified as Christians.  Honestly, one of the reasons we get so angry as Americans when our culture drifts so far from God and biblical truth is that we are then marginalized and mischaracterized.  Then we have to suffer through being misrepresented and even mocked.  That then requires of us courage and love and forgiveness that we would not like to have to press into.  As long as our culture is voicing what we feel is right, we don't have to rouse from our comfort and be troubled or uncomfortable.  This is a cup of suffering we are loath to drink.  I am amazed at how easily our American church has become ashamed of the Gospel, resorting to denial of what is really happening in our culture because we simply cannot bear the suffering of being labeled and dismissed.

We don't want to be the one in a conversation that disagrees.  We don't want to be the one who shares the truth that may unsettle those around us.  We don't want to be the one who corrects a misperception of Jesus or the Bible.  We don't want to be the one who refuses to engage in a conversation that misrepresents someone who happens to be the topic of conversation.  We don't want to be the only one who doesn't watch a movie or a series because it glorifies or desensitizes us to sin. We don't want to be the one whose child can't participate because an event is just plain worldly.

And these sufferings are small compared to the sufferings of the rest of the world where identification with Jesus may mean a beheading on your own front lawn.

Our desire for fellowship with the world precludes our fellowship with Jesus.  The cup of suffering is a fellowship with Christ;  we share his cup; we participate in it.  The fellowship we choose must be the fellowship with Jesus--whatever the cup contains for us, we must drink it.

Then there is the cup of suffering we must drink when we choose to obey Jesus when the easy thing would be to slip into a spiritual malaise of disappointment, resentment, and unbelief. Years ago we suffered several church splits during which my husband and I (he as the pastor) were regarded with suspicion and also suffered the regular mischaracterization, slights, and slander that accompany such divisions.  The Lord kept telling us to resist Satan, the true enemy, especially in our own souls.  We were to receive this suffering in silence, avoid self-defense and any form of retaliation, and wait on the Lord.  We were to receive this as a test that would prepare us for the leadership ahead and as a purifying from our own sin.  In humility, we were to look for any opportunity to restore peace even if at the cost of still being misunderstood.

That cup of suffering that lasted for years worked in us a companionship with Christ, purifying us of the need to people please, instilling in us an urgency to live for Christ's kingdom and not for ourselves, to love and serve others no matter what their perception of us, to receive our resources from the Lord instead of from the vacillation of positive feedback or the response of others.  What a trial it was, though, in my own soul, to quell the inner dialogue and imaginations of what I wished I could do or say!

Because of that season, though, when we face traces of the same suffering that simply comes with leadership, it doesn't blow us about as it once did.  We are simply more mature than we were.  Also, we have tasted the glory of the Lord when we are united both in his death and resurrection, which enables us to see more of the eternal perspective.

How is the cup of suffering we share with Jesus different from any suffering?  The suffering cup shared with Jesus involves a self-denial, an acceptance that the suffering I am enduring can and will purify me IF I receive it as such.  In other words, any suffering can be turned into a participation of Christ's suffering if it becomes for us a vehicle of life.  If I deny my self-indulgence and allow the Spirit to fill me so that instead of stewing in a slight, I forgive and bless;  instead of engaging in acts of the flesh, I choose to resist the devil and instead turn to Jesus for aid and freedom.

Side chapel in São Bento Monastery in Sãp Paulo, Brazil
the Latin imperative: "Accept and Eat; This is my Body."
And herein lies the motivation to drink the cup of Jesus:  it is not only our suffering;  it is our salvation.  Jesus drank his cup because he knew that in doing so he would save the world.  We drink with Jesus because in doing so we receive his salvation.  This cup is referred to as, The Cup of Salvation in the Psalms.  Jesus references it as the cup that gives us eternal life.  The Romans 8 passage I mentioned at the beginning says that we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.  We share Jesus' suffering, and he shares his glory with us.  The Romans passage goes on to say,

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."  When we avoid the suffering, we lose the glory.  We have a whole inheritance available to us when we participate in Jesus--an inheritance of God himself ministered to us by the Holy Spirit imparted to us NOW;  but it is accessed by drinking the cup.

God has given us the privilege of a particular kind of fellowship with him--sharing his suffering and his salvation.  Isn't one of the hardest parts of suffering the loneliness?  Jesus promised his companionship as we drink with him.  What is your current suffering?  Name it before the Lord and accept it as the way of the cross for you.  As we journey into Holy Week, accept the cup Jesus extends to you and know the fellowship of Christ.  It is your death and your means to eternal life.

"...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead." Phil. 3:14

Other Holy Week posts:

The Word that Dispels all Darkness
Living in Vertical Time
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